grand jury indictment of JonBenet Ramsey's parents has been released, 14 years after then District Attorney Alex Hunter refused to sign it and prosecute the couple for child abuse resulting in the six-year-old's death.
But despite the enormous hype over the 1999 documents, they don't tell us much we didn't already know.
The documents reveal that John and Patsy Ramsey were each indicted in 1999 on two counts of child abuse resulting in death. One count accused them of letting JonBenet be placed in a situation where she might be harmed or killed; the other accused them of helping an unnamed person escape prosecution on suspicion of murder and child abuse resulting in death.
The body of the six-year-old beauty pageant queen was discovered on December 26, 1996. She had been strangled to death, and bludgeoned until her skull fractured. There was evidence of a sexual assault.
The documents show that, although the Boulder grand jury investigating the Ramsey case voted to indict the Ramseys after a year of analysis, Hunter did not proceed with the indictment.
But that was already public knowledge. In January, The Boulder Daily Camera reported the indictment existed, and gave details of its contents. The Camera's reporter Charlie Brennan brought the lawsuit that led to the indictment being released today.
The new documents also reveal nothing new about why Hunter decided not to prosecute, a decision he has refused to comment on. "I'm bound by my oath to the court and Colorado statutes governing Grand Jury proceedings," he told The Daily Beast. There's no chance of the indictment being re-opened, either. The statute of limitations for child abuse leading to death expired in 2002.
The indictment is also quite dated, since it was written years before the Ramseys were publicly exonerated in JonBenet's death. After DNA evidence ruled out the involvement of a family member in JonBenet's sexual assault, then Boulder District Attorney Mary Lacy wrote to John Ramsey in 2008, telling him he and his family were cleared of suspicion. The exoneration came too late for Patsy Ramsey, who died of ovarian cancer in 2006.
The new documents also don't make it clear why the grand jury indicted JonBenet's parents, though some jurors have begun to speak out. "We didn't know who did what," one juror told the Boulder Daily Camera in January. "But we felt the adults in the house may have done something that they certainly could have prevented, or they could have helped her, and they didn't."
One legal expert told the Denver Post the indictment seems like the product of a "classic compromise grand jury decision." These two indictments were the only ones the jury could agree on, said attorney Dan Recht. "They can't decide whether to indict on murder. They can't decide not to indict at all. So they compromise in between." Hunter likely recognized it as a flimsy, compromise decision, says Recht, and felt he couldn't make a prosecution stick beyond a reasonable doubt.
The newly-released documents may reveal some of the legal background to the case, but they shed no new light on the biggest mystery of all — who might have killed JonBenet. The Ramseys have always insisted an intruder killed their daughter, but investigators found no evidence of forced entry. No suspect has ever been named. After years of investigation we're back where we started, say Faith Karimi and Michael Martinez in CNN.com, to a cold case with "no arrests and no convictions."
And the years seem to stand still for the little girl. To many, she's still the 6-year-old who paraded across television screens nationwide. But she would have turned 23 this year. [CNN.com]
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